In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells three parables identifying the type of people who will find themselves cast into outer darkness. The first is the servant who in his master’s absence is left in charge of the household and personnel, but abused his power/position. The second is about 10 virgins awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom where five prepared by bringing extra oil and five did not make the effort. The third involves responsible versus irresponsible management of their master’s funds by three servants with different levels of abilities. The outer darkness is the place assigned to those who fail to do what they know is right. It is described as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42). It is isolation from God and sounds very much like Hell.
There is a difference between not doing what we know to be right, and not knowing what is right. The first is actually the definition of hypocrisy, something Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing. Interestingly, the world accuses Christians of the same. With these parables Jesus creates a list of adjectives under the umbrella of hypocrisy: arrogant, abusive, greedy, self-indulgent, entitled, presumptive, lazy, dismissive – not practicing what they know. Non-believers actually do the same things, but for believers, the deliberate disregard of God’s ways is most serious. It is not only disobedience, it is also rebellion. 1 Samuel 15:23 tells us that rebellion against God is like the sin of witchcraft.
Jesus did not mince words as He was addressing those who should have known better. Those same warnings are for believers today who think they are safe because they call Jesus “Savior” and perhaps attend church. But James, half-brother of Jesus writes that, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:17, 18, 21-22, 26) So, if our faith is dead, then there is no belief. True belief calls for action.
A sobering thought for believers is the number of times we have been guilty (if we’ll admit it) of participating in hypocritical judgments and practices. Are we sometimes secretly criticizing the attire or antics of worship leaders while we are presumably worshiping God? Are we reluctant givers of the resource God has given to us? How honestly gracious are we towards co-workers who receive the favor/promotion that we wanted? Are we willing to forgive a family member for treating us in the same dismissive, inconsiderate way that we have treated God? What have we known we should do, but keep putting it off? The list goes on and on . . .
But because Jesus never treats us the way we treat Him, we have hope — His grace for us sinners. This is not the grace to continue sinning, but to turn and realign ourselves in Him with the clean slate His blood has purchased. It’s a fresh start, a do-over that will keep us from the outer darkness if we will ruthlessly examine ourselves, heed His warning, and do as He teaches. It’s time to wake-up, listen, and act.